A Pacific Port City

City of Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert is a port city on the north coast of British Columbia. This critical transportation hub has one of the most efficient and safe ports in North America, and easy access to both international shipping lanes and rail infrastructure has made it the third largest port in Canada by volume of goods shipped.

From the coal of north-eastern British Columbia to the grain of the Prairies, goods destined for Pacific Rim markets pass through the port city of Prince Rupert. The city’s port has five world-class terminals, one of which is the fastest-growing container terminal on the continent. Major port expansion is underway, as terminals are being enlarged and upgraded, and currently, there are four sites within Prince Rupert harbour that are being considered for LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminals for export. Business in Focus spoke recently with Mayor Jack Mussallem about this bustle of activity – and he was positively beaming with pride.

January of next year will see the development of the first of four LNG export terminals at the harbour. This is the Pacific Northwest LNG Project which is owned by Petronas. Petroleum Brunei and Japan Petroleum Exploration have interests and other potential investors are in talks.

“They tell us that they are moving ahead, and that the Pacific Northwest LNG project will involve fifty-two months of construction, four thousand construction workers,” shares Mayor Mussallem. “It will provide 330 direct jobs and approximately three hundred indirect jobs. This export terminal will facilitate 200 to 220 ships per year and they will guide the LNG carriers in and out of their docks with four ocean going ship docking tugs.”

At present, the port facilities contain one of the most efficient grain export terminals in North America, in addition to grain and coal export terminals and a container import/export terminal which received a fourth container crane last year. The container terminal recently had an additional CN rail line built to it, and Ridley Terminals Inc. is currently undergoing a forty-four acre expansion of its coal yards and has received a third stacker / reclaimer, at a cost of $26 million. This includes the modernization of the existing rail car dumper, and construction of more rail car tracks for a total of eight for handling coal. Pinnacle Renewable Energy has also built a wood pellet export terminal.

While the coal terminal is under expansion, there is also a $90 million railway utility and road corridor being built on Ridley Island which will access another thousand acres for foreshore development.

The future could see the development of a potash export terminal, two expansions of the Fairview container port which would be phase two north and south, and the redevelopment of Watson Island, which is a two hundred acre old pulp mill site that is accessible by road, rail and water. “It contains a dock which can accommodate vessels up to 50,000 dead weight tonnes and that may be revised to accommodate vessels up to 70,000 dead weight tonnes,” the Mayor explains.

Having Prince Rupert’s port is vital to Canadian trade and commerce. If all trade was based out of Vancouver’s port, a major problem such as an earthquake in the Fraser River Canyon would grind everything to a halt. “We are not just talking about the West Coast; we are talking about our role as transit points for goods coming from Western Canada. So, I think it is critical in the national interests in terms of trade and commerce to have more than one port.”

The city’s harbour is rated as one of the safest for access and egress for marine vessels in North America, making it ideal as a trade gateway to Asia. This was based on a study which gauged, amongst marine risk factors, the depth and width of harbour approaches and wind. The Prince Rupert harbour, the third deepest natural one in the world, contains no significant navigational hazards.

One consideration for the future is related to the fact that Prince Rupert is Western Canada’s largest northern, ice-free, deep-water port. With increasing activity and discussions about the Northwest Passage, Prince Rupert is a critical transfer point for marine trading commerce and also the Canadian Armed Forces which will need to deal with sovereignty issues.

“It’s quite interesting when you consider the possibility of development with cooperation from others once Canada establishes sovereignty,” says Mayor Mussallem. “If you look at a map of how the proposed routing would go, you can see the advantage to accessing other parts of the world, and it really opens up the Pacific Ocean as a way of going over the top as opposed to going around the curvature of the earth. It’s almost as if it is the last frontier and everybody wants a piece of the action.”

The city of Prince Rupert and the Prince Rupert Port Authority are facilitating port growth to support transhipment (changing the means of transport of goods or containers – from rail to cargo vessel for example) of resource based commodities and consumer products.

Prince Rupert has the closest North American port to Asian markets, and the rail line connecting it adds to that efficiency. The port hosts hundreds of ships annually and that is expected to increase as more ships come to the new wood pellet export terminal and to the expanded coal export terminal. The rail line serving the city is also one of the most dependable in North America with minimum rail grades. As shallower climbs mean less fuel used for transport, this route linking the coast to the interior has a high ratio of tonnes of freight hauled to gallon of diesel burned.

“We are fortunate because, the further north you go in the Rocky Mountain Trench, the shallower the mountain passes are. With regard to the container port, by the time a container ship comes into the port and drops off its cargo and is reloaded and ready to leave, a third of the imported cargo has already left the container port and is going across Western and Central Canada, to arrive in the mid-Western US, in less than one hundred hours!”

As for tourism, Prince Rupert is beautifully situated in pristine West Coast wilderness with temperate rainforest. Prince Rupert is a terminus for ferry service for the Alaska Marine Highway. This ferry service is operated by the government of Alaska and serves coastal communities from Alaska to British Columbia without road access. Between fourteen and fifteen thousand people come through every year as well as vehicles, campers and freight.

There is a cruise ship dock which, for a ten to twelve year period prior to the financial meltdown of 2008, saw large cruise ships coming in from May to September on once a week drop ins. Though the financial crisis saw the frequency of traffic diminish, two new companies have recently entered the cruise ship market. “They entered the Alaskan theatre through the Jones Act. They are using foreign hulls, so they have to stop in somewhere. They can’t sail directly between American ports, so that gives places such as Victoria, Vancouver, Nanaimo and Prince Rupert opportunities.”

This year, the city is concentrating more on promoting attractions to the smaller, pocket cruise ships. Eleven vessels will be in port to give visitors quality experiences such as sightseeing, whale watching, hiking the forestry interpretation trail or even going on a day trip to the grizzly bear reserve.

The largest single tourism activity remains sports fishing, with dozens of charters available. Fishing, both commercial and for sport, is huge business in Prince Rupert which is home to the largest salmon cannery in the world.

In the 1990s, a significant downturn in economic activity in the forestry and fishing industries caused a huge population drop as people left in search of work. As a result, a lot of empty apartments and townhouses were available to rent. With the four major projects going on in the City (rail line to the container port; expansion of the coal terminal; development of the wood pellet plant; and development of the railway utility and road corridor on Ridley Island), Mayor Mussallem saw an opportunity. He spoke with the project proponents and contractors to let them know that they were welcome into the community and that their support would be appreciated.

The mayor suggested that the companies working in town pay its workers “living out allowances” so that they could live in these accommodations. This would be a boost to the city as the workers would support the community by buying their groceries in town or using the recreational facilities – such as the arena, the aquatic centre and golf course. It was agreed on and the vacancy rate went down, revitalizing the city.

Mayor Mussallem has asked his staff to examine where the community is today to establish baseline information. Project planners in the area are being interviewed to establish a number of variables from construction start dates and completion dates to the potential numbers of direct and indirect jobs created.

Particular attention to data needs to be considered when planning for services such as fire rescue, policing and healthcare. This information would be shared with the school district and some of the neighbouring communities including the district of Port Edward. As these projects all come together there will be a marked increase in activity and business.

“We need to be able to adequately facilitate and a lot of the larger projects will go into camps, but the smaller projects we’ve been able to facilitate in the community.” Examining the timing of these different projects will enable them, as community managers, to lessen the growing pains of the residents who live in Prince Rupert.

With everything happening in Prince Rupert, Mayor Jack Mussallem is an extremely busy man.

Why is so much taking place now? “We are indeed having some interesting times here,” the Mayor shares. “It’s given the community a lot of exposure. It’s all in how it’s facilitated through land use planning and other considerations. I think the reason that there is this kind of attention being paid is the fact that we are the closest North American port to Asia and we are accessible by road, rail, water and air. All of these terminals are building critical mass and we have room to accommodate growth.”

For more information about City of Prince Rupert, please visit http://www.princerupert.ca

October 23, 2017, 7:32 AM EDT

Wind on the Rise

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